Interesting piece in The Times today, which set off thoughts about loneliness, sadness, chronic pain and, you’ll not be surprised to hear from me, reading. Pavel Goldstein, a neuroscientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, The Times reports, has published a paper on hand holding and pain in the journal PNAS,
Neuroscientists think that the empathy one partner feels for the other can be passed on through touch as the pair’s brainwaves begin to dance to the same rhythms. This in turn helps to curb distress and floods the brain with reward chemicals that muffle the pain.
The pain relief appears to be tightly bound up with affection. It was most powerful in the couples who had the most closely connected patterns of electrical activity in their brains.
Lots to think about here, as the study did not find the same effects in both women and men. Further, other scientists, of course, disagree;
Flavia Mancini, of the University of Cambridge, said it was important to show that the effect could work on chronic pain as well as short, sharp suffering. “Social touch may help, but in my opinion what really matters is social connection,” she said. “We should not let others suffer in isolation, with or without the touch of a partner.”
What came into my mind as I read was the memory of Doris Lessing talking to me about people synching brainwaves (something she had learned in or through her Sufi practice, I seem to remember, but it is all so long ago, perhaps I’ve made that part up).
At the time – but what time? Shall we say late 1980s, when I was oh, not yet forty… At the time, I thought it was a deeply attractive, true-feeling possibility but also impossible to prove and maybe a bit crazy. Doris was utterly convinced. I paraphrase but she said something like , when people sit together and concentrate their minds sink and their brain waves all enter the same state…
I think Doris was talking about meditation or prayer groups (but look at the Nurenburg Rallies, I bet brainwaves were synched there, too) Later as The Reader developed, and I had many experiences in Shared Reading groups of people sitting together and directly their concentration in one place I knew that Doris was right. People get together in someway, and it feels good.
What has this to do with pain?
I don’t know, I was thinking about another recent study which showed that physical pain inhibitors such as paracetamol also inhibit emotional pain.
I was thinking I wish I would stop thinking of the body as one thing and the rest of me as something else.
I was thinking of the importance of physical touch and ridiculous risk-averse guidelines which routinely suggest children should not be hugged or kissed even by foster-parents? Can this really be true?
Thinking of love poetry, too.
Thinking of young (and old) lovers holding hands.
And thinking of a circle of people, linked and synched by the language of the book.
No time to work these thoughts out this morning, just jotting them there, for perhaps future reference.